Just two years ago, action cameras looked an unstoppable fad. But sales of these handy gizmos, which can be mounted on just about anything that moves, have stuttered since. Market leader GoPro laid off 7 per cent of its staff at the start of this year and suffered a 31 per cent drop in revenue in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with the same period the year before.
Research firm Euromonitor International has forecast a decline of 9 per cent in GoPro's volume sales this year. And the global digital camcorder market, which includes action cameras, is expected to fall by a compound annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent from 2016 to 2021, according to the research firm.
As a result, action-camera makers are now banking on a new crop of high-end models and the appeal of 4K video to boost sales.
"To cushion the declining demand, manufacturers are pushing for higher-end models to drive value sales. We are seeing more action cameras equipped with more advanced features such as 4K video shooting," said Ms Karissa Chua, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor International.
She said that there is growing demand for 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) or Ultra HD (UHD) content as more consumers are upgrading to UHD TV sets. Furthermore, more smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone 7 and Samsung's Galaxy S7, are now equipped with 4K video recording.
"Action cameras are similarly moving in that direction to ensure that they remain relevant to consumers," Ms Chua said.
Mr Gerard Tan, senior director of technology at research firm GfK Asia Pacific, also noted that more action cameras are going the 4K route because they need to match up with the current high-end smartphones and UHD TV sets.
Action cameras are small, light and can be mounted on almost anything, from a moving vehicle to a user's helmet.
They are typically water-resistant and can be usedfor most water sports, or have a waterproof casing. They also come with mounts that can be easily clipped or attached to bicycle handle bars or helmets.
Production houses these days use them to film variety shows, and even mount them on drones for filming. At around $500 each, these action cameras are much cheaper than professional camcorders, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars but yet are not as mobile and durable.
STRONG LOCAL DEMAND
While their sales may be declining globally, action cameras are still doing well in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.
According to GfK Asia Pacific, sales volume grew by 28 per cent in the region from January to September this year, compared with the same period last year. In Singapore, action cameras registered an 8 per cent surge over the same period.
"The action camera is expected to remain popular and grow in sales with more brands entering the market," said Mr Tan.
Apart from market leader GoPro and electronics giant Sony, indie brands such as Curve, Yi and 360fly are also making inroads into the Singapore market.
Courts Singapore has seen healthy demand for action cameras, with a 20 per cent increase in sales for 4K action cameras this year, compared with last year.
"We see more potential for growth in the popularity of action cameras, and many are using it to replace their camcorders due to its compact size and durability," said Mr Stan Kim, country CEO of Courts Singapore.
More features, such as 360-degree coverage and 4K video recording functions, are being added to these action cameras, making them multi-functional tech gadgets that are hardy, according to Mr Kim.
He also felt that although they are called action cameras, they are not just used for sports but as handy, carry-along devices for recording precious personal and family moments.
Public relations executive Irene Soh, 36, had the same idea when she bought a Sony FDR-X1000V 4K action camera. Her primary use of the action camera is to record her kids in the outdoors swimming, cycling and trekking.
"I wanted a discreet camera that is versatile enough to shoot underwater and in rough terrains, and also for commoneveryday events," said Madam Soh.
• The Straits Times reviews six action cameras (see related articles) that are capable of shooting 4K videos, by going for a go-kart ride in Karting Arena and cable skiing in the newly opened Singapore Wake Park.